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Lansdale to Gauge Interest in Video Recording of Meetings Via Audio Downloads

The communication commission discussed the possibility of video recording borough meetings, but, before spending money, it will first determine interest of residents for such services by tracking the popularity of audio downloads.

The concept of video recording Lansdale Borough meetings was broached at the joint Communication Commission/Economic Development Committee meeting Monday night—but it was agreed some research must be done, before administration shells out money, to determine if it is worthwhile to do so.
Thus, Lansdale Borough will now be offering audio recordings of its meeting online for free, and then tracking the number of downloads of those recordings to gauge if video recordings should be pursued in Lansdale Borough. 
At first, Communication Commission Chairman Denton Burnell suggested that Wednesday's council meeting be recorded with a digital camera with video recording capability to test it out. 
However, after discussion on costs of the time and effort for staff to upload the video, Council President Matt West suggested tracking the popularity of downloads of audio recordings before making a decision on video recordings of public meetings. It was also decided to video record Wednesday's meeting anyway to test it out.
"If we're talking about testing the new video system this coming business meeting, it will still take effort to make it available on the website. If we're already recording the meetings, that’s twice the amount of effort. So why not start with the effort of uploading the audio first and make it available as a free link as a way to gauge interest, instead of having the Right-to-Know Request?" West said. "Since we're already doing that process, why introduce a new process if we haven’t effectively measured the existing process?"
Burnell said the commission will continue to look for a long-term solution and a more practical way to video record meetings. This includes talking to North Penn School District's Coordinator of Communications Media Bob Gillmer and Television Production Specialist Mary Faikish on the possibility of using their services to record borough meetings.
Borough Communications Manager Tracy Flynn said she did reach out to Gillmer, but he had not had a chance to look into the request with the busy holiday schedule.
"Bob promised to look into how we can use their facilities and what they have. There are some adjustments, but they will need to have staff there, so there will be some additional cost associated with that," Flynn said.
Burnell said that, while it won't be cost-free, he would love that option.
"I'd expect it to be more professional," he said. 
Burnell said the sound and video quality of the borough-owned camera may be limited in terms of where it has to be placed in the meeting room to be able to capture everything effectively. At present, Lansdale council meetings are held at North Penn's Educational Services Center during the interim of the municipal complex renovation.   
Flynn said the camera recording will "by no means" be professional.
"That's not what it was meant for. We can test it out and see how it works, how it sounds," she said.  
Communication Commission member Brian Berkinstock, and West too, asked it there was a great outcry for video recording public meetings. 
"There is an outcry," Burnell said. "I don’t know whether I would consider it great."
Burnell said video recording meetings was one of his desires when he ran for borough council.
"We put our agendas online, and I don’t know if there's a great outcry for that either," he said. "In the interest of more openness, more transparency, in that persective, my question would be, 'Why not?' As long as it's not a significant cost to it, as long as it's not an additional undue burden to staff and the budget, why not provide that opportunity for our residents?"
Burnell said the measurement of downloads of the audio recordings in the meantime will determine if the issue should be pursued any further.
"Why make a larger investment in a cable access channel or any other options? Let's give this fairly cost effective option a chance and go from there," he said.
Burnell wanted residents and other citizens to show their support of the video recording initiative by going to www.lansdale.org and downloading the audio recordings.
"The new website will be better equipped to provide users with data," he said.  
Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Mary Fuller said council should be mindful of residents being shy and talking at meetings if they were to be recorded.
"I'm told people get nervous standing up and asking questions under normal circumstances. I'm hoping the thought of being recorded and on TV doesn't further petrify residents," she said. "I wouldn't want to scare anyone away."
Borough Manager Timi Kirchner agreed it all comes down to whether or not this is a worthy investment.
"That's why it's important to have the technology to determine the hits on this before we make a major investment. We need to research various approaches on this," she said. "It's important to talk to the school district and reach out to other municipalities and see what those hits and records are like too." 
Communication Commission member Rick Murphy agreed that the borough should start looking at cost estimates now for what it wants as an investment.
"Let's make sure we're not spending money that's not there," he said.
Kirchner said the initial estimate for investment was $50,000 for equipment and staff.
"I think if we do our research, it will be helpful to us," she said.  
 Burnell said it's hard to know how many will take advantage of video recordings until it's put on TV.
"The web is very different than TV," he said, "especially with seniors. It's hard to say how they will use it."

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